All Buddhists of the planet are aware of the beginning of a new age which will be associated with the arrival of the Holy Buddha Maitreya. In this article, I will share with you who Maitreya is, when he comes, and what awaits humanity with his arrival.
The great Maitreya will appear in this world and achieve the great enlightenment.– Lama Chobgye Rinpoche
Who is Maitreya?
Maitreya is the Buddha of the future, the fifth teaching Buddha in this eon of 1,000 Buddhas. According to Buddhist tradition, He is a bodhisattva who will appear on Earth in the future, achieve complete enlightenment, and teach the pure dharma. He will be a successor to the present Buddha, Gautama Buddha.
The name ‘Maitreya’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘maitrī’ which can be translated as ‘friendship’, which is in turn derived from the noun ‘mitra’ which can be translated as ‘friend’.
However, you may see different interpretations of Maitreya’s name:
- Spreading love;
- Giver of mercy;
- Compassionate Lord;
- Future Teacher.
But no matter how we interpret His name, the meaning will stay the same – He is the coming Teacher that will appear in the future, reach Enlightenment, and bring salvation to mankind. He will bring people new teachings, give pure Dharma, and help everyone to get out of the cycle of samsara with its constant rebirth and suffering.
In each country and tradition Maitreya can have a special name:
Chinese: Mílè Púsa.
Karen: Mehtuhyah Boodah.
Okinawan: Miruku Unkee.
Thai: Phra Si Ariya Mettrai.
Vietnamese: Di Lặc Bồ Tát.
Sinhala: Maithri Budun.
Mongolian: Mayidari, Asaraltu.
However, despite on all the differences in the name, all Buddhists know who Maitreya is. All Buddhists know that this is the Buddha of the future who will come at the end of the present age – the Kalpa era.
It is believed that now Maitreya is in Tushita Heaven – the place where all Bodhisattvas destined to reach full enlightenment in their next life dwell.
Tushita Heaven (translated as “Gardens of Joy”) is one of the six heavenly realms, the fourth from below, located between the “Yāmā deva” realm and the “Nirmanarati deva” realm. This heavenly realm is reachable through sādhanā, or advanced meditative attainments.
Tushita Heaven is the place for those who observed the main Buddhist commandments, engaged in meditative practices and cultivated good thoughts and noble deeds in their past life. It is in Tushita Heaven where these souls find a new incarnation of Bodhisattvas. Some Mahayana Scriptures claim that it was here that the Buddha Shakyamuni appeared before He was incarnated in our world and became a great Teacher.
The Infinite Life Sutra, a Mahayana text, states:
“Each of these bodhisattvas, following the virtues of the Mahasattva Samantabhadra, is endowed with the immeasurable practices and vows of the Bodhisattva Path and firmly dwells in all the meritorious deeds. He freely travels in all the ten quarters and employs skillful means of emancipation. He enters the treasury of the Dharma of the Buddhas and reaches the Other Shore. Throughout the innumerable worlds, he attains Enlightenment. First, dwelling in the Tusita Heaven, he proclaims the true Dharma. Having left the heavenly palace, he descends into his mother’s womb.”
Buddhist Sacred Texts About Maitreya
The main sacred text about the Buddha of the Future is the Sanskrit Sutra called “Maitreyavyakarana”, which means “the prophecy of Maitreya”. According to the Scriptures, deities, people and all beings in the world will follow Maitreya and his teachings and thus get rid of attachments and doubts.
The coming Buddha will prove that nothing (property, wealth, jewelry, home, and even family) belongs to us. And this realization will save all living beings from their attachments and give them a joyful and happy life.
The Digha Nikaya calls Maitreya a follower of Shakyamuni. Lalitavistara says the same. It says that before the incarnation in the world of people Gautama Buddha, while still in Heaven Tushita, pointed to Maitreya and planted on him a wreath of a bodhisattva.
Mahaparinibbana Sutta mentions the Buddha of the Future, calling him ‘Maitreya’ and ‘Ajita’ (which means ‘invincible’).
In theosophy, the theosophical Maitreya has multiple aspects signifying not just the future Buddha, but similar concepts from other religious or spiritual traditions.
In the early 20th century, leading theosophists became convinced that an appearance of the “World Teacher” (Maitreya) was imminent. Jiddu Krishnamurti was thought to be destined as the “vehicle” of the soon-to-manifest Maitreya. However, the manifestation did not happen as predicted and did not fulfill theosophists’ expectations.
We can find mentions about Maitreya in the books and studies of Russian theosophists such as Nicholas Roerich, S.F. Oldenburg, E.P. Blavatsky.
When Will Maitreya Come?
As I already said, it is believed that the Buddha of the Future is in the Tushita Heaven now waiting for the moment when people will be ready for His coming. But there is also an opinion that Maitreya can already be there where He is needed most. At the same time, He can be in several different worlds at once.
Predictions about the coming of the Buddha of the Future can be found in the first Mahayana sutras, as well as in Maitreyavyakarana.
The sacred Buddhist texts describe the level of humanity’s development precedes the Maitreya’s coming. Here is what they say:
- Life expectancy will be about 80 thousand years.
- The world will be led by a Buddhist school, which will surpass Buddha Shakyamuni’s teaching in the number of successors.
- At the “helm” of humanity will be a wise ruler-Buddhist.
- The death from hunger, war, and disease will no longer exist on the planet.
- Love and compassion will be the main life principles.
It is also said that just before His arrival, the oceans will become smaller so that the Coming Buddha can cross them. It will take Maitreya only a week to become enlightened in this life. Then He will begin teaching so that all the living beings of the planet will be able to understand the pure Dharma, which will create a new beautiful world.
The Image Of Maitreya
The Buddha of the Future can be depicted differently.
Usually, He is shown seated on a throne supported by eight snow lions. There is a stupa on His head which symbolizes respect for Shakyamuni Buddha. There is a parasol (one of the eight auspicious objects) above His head which symbolizes Maitreya’s powers of protection against evil influences.
Often His hands are depicted in a teaching mudra, holding the stems of lotuses, on which are the Dharma wheel and a vase.
His skin is shining with a golden hue, and His clothes are the ordinary apparel of a monk.
Often Maitreya is depicted in statues, some of which date back to 350 BC.
One of the most famous sculptures is located in Leshan, China. It is known as Leshan Giant Buddha. It is a UNESCO world heritage site. Carved into the rock, the statue is striking in size:
- total height is 70 meters;
- the head is 14 meters;
- shoulders – 29 meters;
- nose with – 5 meters;
- finger – 8 meters;
- toe – 1.5 meters.
Nicholas Roerich made a great contribution to the study of Maitreya. In the 20s of the last century, he was in the Central Asian expedition, where he studied the cultural heritage of Buddhism and embodied it in his paintings.
There is a series of paintings by Roerich, which is called “Maitreya”. The most famous of them is “Maitreya Winner”, now it is stored in the Moscow International center – Roerich Museum. The remaining seven paintings are presented in the Art Museum of Nizhny Novgorod.
The Bottom Line
Instead of waiting for Maitreya to come and set us free from the Samsara circle we need to realize that He is already here, He lives in each of us. And all we need to do is to remember about Him and awaken Him inside. We need to reveal His essence!
“Developing compassion helps us develop Buddha’s wisdom. This wisdom gradually thins the clouds of obscurations that temporarily obscure the mind until the mind becomes as pure as clear blue sky flooded with sunlight.”– Lama Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche
By becoming more loving and compassionate we are inviting Maitreya into our lives.